On a Panama military base, Samuel L. Jackson's Master Sergeant Nathan West leads some Army Rangers on a training exercise -- and not all of them return. The ones who do only want to talk to John Travolta's DEA agent, a man whose name is, no joke, Tom Hardy. He and Captain Julia Osborne (Connie Nielsen) hear rumors that a band of ex-US military soldiers are running hard drugs out of Latin America, and it seems that the soldiers taking part in the training exercise ran afoul of these drug-runners. In the ensuing fight, say the survivors, West was killed.
To piece together the truth via interviews, Basic piles lies upon twists throughout the whole film. The big reveal: the military drug-runners turn out to be a rumor designed to spook cartels while a real anti-drug black-ops group -- led by (twist!) Hardy -- hunts the bad guys. On top of that, we learn that West has merely faked his own death after he outed the group to his superior officer, not knowing that he was in on the scam. Translation: the "Who killed Sergeant Nathan West?" investigation is all a red herring. Any anger over the "Who killed Sergeant Nathan West?" investigation being a red herring is real.